Getting competitive: Georgia Tech conference focuses on manufacturing future

Panel sees need for boosts in innovation, transportation

03/06/2012


While "Made in the USA" is a slogan that is harder to find today than in years past, it would be wrong to assume that U.S.-based manufacturing is headed toward extinction.

That was one of the key points to emerge from a two-day conference titled, "U.S. Manufacturing Competitiveness Initiative: Dialog on Next Generation Supply Networks and Logistics."

Representatives from industry, labor, government, and academia gathered at the Georgia Tech Global Learning Center in Atlanta on Feb. 28-29, 2012 to share ideas on ways to improve America's manufacturing competitiveness from the perspective of supply networks and advanced logistics.

“Our challenge is to not only get back to ‘made in America' but also 'invented in America’," said G.P. "Bud" Peterson, president of Georgia Tech, in his opening remarks. “The same spirit of innovation and collaboration that once gave us preeminence in manufacturing can help us regain our competitiveness, thereby creating jobs, increasing exports and serving as a catalyst for a healthy economy.”

Several speakers noted that while U.S. manufacturing has unquestionably suffered in certain industries, the nation's industrial base overall remains strong and is a leading exporter in key areas including aerospace, chemicals, machinery and medical equipment. In fact, by capitalizing on its unique strengths, America is well-positioned to continue growing its manufacturing output and exports, thereby enhancing its global competitiveness.

However, America's ability to produce and export products to the global marketplace is threatened by serious neglect of the country's transportation infrastructure—manufacturing's critical supply chain and logistical backbone. Furthermore, manufacturing industries are facing a talent drain as older workers retire and young people opt for careers in other fields.

Discussion topics covered a breadth of national and regional issues ranging from efficient cargo rail systems to just-in-time air delivery to tax and regulatory concerns. Among the points raised:

  • Manufacturing accounts for 11% of U.S. GDP. In dollar terms, the U.S. manufacturing sector is larger than the entire GDP of Canada, India or Brazil.
  • Public perception of factories as dirty, low-wage, unsafe workplaces are outdated. Today's manufacturing plants typically require the skilled operation of complex machinery.
  • The trend toward outsourcing manufacturing is beginning to show signs of a reversal as rising transportation costs and rising wages overseas are making it more cost effective to locate factories closer to their markets.
  • The U.S. transportation infrastructure has stopped growing and faces a critical period of reinvestment. Basic but necessary improvements and repairs to the nation's highways and bridges will cost hundreds of millions of dollars—but further delay will only raise the cost.
  • Savannah, the nation's fourth-busiest port, is also the shallowest. Dredging the harbor will provide access for the new generation of ultra-large Panamex container ships, and elevate Georgia's global competitiveness as an import and export center.
  • Intermodal freight rail expansion is a cost-efficient way to ease highway congestion and create capacity to improve supply chain efficiency.
  • Development of a long-range, comprehensive national manufacturing strategy and an energy strategy are essential ingredients for ensuring economic competitiveness.
  • The tax and regulatory structure must be simplified and streamlined.

In his welcoming comments, conference chair Chelsea C. “Chip” White III, Schneider National Chair in Transportation and Logistics at Georgia Tech said, "We are delighted to be partnering with the Council on Competitiveness to address how the supply chain and logistics industry can help to provide competitive advantage for U.S. manufacturing and in so doing help to strengthen the U.S. economy."

Among the conference speakers were: Jack McDougle, senior vice president, U.S. Council on Competitiveness; Thomas Mayor, senior executive advisor, Booz and Co.; Helmuth Ludwig, CEO, Siemens Industry Sector, North America; Doug Stotlar, president and CEO, Con-Way; Deb H. Butler, executive vice president of planing and chief information officer, Norfolk Southern; Chris Lofgren, president and CEO, Schneider National; Ray Reulbach, vice president, UPS Customer Solutions; Curtis J. Foltz, executive director, Georgia Ports Authority; Warren Jones, aviation development manager, Hartsfield-Jackson International Airport; Paul Yarossi, president, HNTB; Chris Cummiskey, commissioner, Georgia Dept. of Economic Development; and Chris Gaffney, senior vice president, Coca-Cola Refreshments.

Additional participants and panelists included: Hal Long, executive vice president-operations, Shaw Industries; William L. Strang, senior vice president of operations, TOTO; Bob Roberts, vice president, Jones Lang LaSalle Americas; Michael D. Meyer, professor and director of the Georgia Tech National University Transportation Center; Jane Ammons, Chair of the School of Industrial and Systems Engineering; Leon McGinnis, professor emeritus and associate director of the Manufacturing Research Center, Georgia Tech; Ron Jackson, commissioner, Technical College System of Georgia; and Edward M. Rogers, global strategy manager, UPS.

"Dialogue on Next Generation Supply Networks and Logistics" was sponsored by Georgia Tech and the U.S. Council on Competitiveness. The Council is a non-partisan, non-governmental organization composed of CEOs, university presidents and labor leaders. The Atlanta event was the 13th in a series of conferences held around the country addressing various aspects of manufacturing competitiveness. Georgia Tech's host role in the conference was coordinated by the H. Milton Stewart School of Industrial and Systems Engineering.

A joint Georgia Tech-Council on Competitiveness Report will detail the forum's findings, and it will contribute to the Council's National Manufacturing Strategy.



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